General Information, Backdrops for Theater, Television, Film
What are the main types of theater backdrops? Information and tips for getting the most for your theatrical background dollar.
Painted Backgrounds & Scrims
Canvas is a heavy fabric. Canvas backgrounds are usually painted, frequently in scenic realism.
Muslin is a lighter material (basically the same fabric as is used for bedsheets). Muslin can be painted or dyed, but isn't as good a painting surface as Canvas. Muslin is far less expensive than canvas and is a frequent substitute. Dyed muslin makes an acceptable solid color background. The key problem with muslin is the wrinkling of unsized pieces, and the rotting of flame retardant treated pieces.
The classic painted scrim is a painted sharkstooth scrim--if translucent use is desired or a leno (filled scrim) if the scrim is used opaquely. Leno scrims travel well and are famous for a glowing quality when lit from behind, making Leno a favorite of traveling shows. A newer painted scrim solution is Chameleon™ scrim. Chameleon™ cannot be painted with dyes, but can be painted with dilute latex. Several qualities of Chameleon™ make it an easier surface to paint and a far less expensive surface to paint: 1.) Material is less expensive. 2.) Far less dye/paint is used to paint Chameleon™ scrim. 3.) Chameleon™ can be ordered in colors, thereby reducing painting time tremendously. Chameleon™ has a size limitation, but also can overcome that by being ordered in panels which have several staging advantages.
Chameleon™ scrim is the most readily available scrim to print. Printing turnaround is approximately 3 weeks making it a true time saver and labor saver for overtaxed painters. Printing is also economical enough to allow this to be a great substitute for painted scrims. Colors are rich, detail is clear on this scrim.
Cut Drops and Cut Scrims
Cut Drops are backdrops that have a shape cut. Typically the cut drop is painted as an archway with the opening cut out so that a person can stand below it. Trees, Architectural details, and abstract patterns can be cut out.
Partial backdrops are similar to the cut drop. A partial backdrop is not meant to fully cover a set. It might detail a vertical column, wall or doorway. Another use of a partial backdrop is a scene behind a window.
Cut and Partial Scrims are similar to the cut and partial drops. Only Chameleon™ scrim is recommended to consider for a cut or partial scrim, because it can be cut to a shape without rish of fraying. The shape can be irregular without concern, and may not need net support to hold its shape--depending on that shape. Chameleon™ is inexpensive and easy to paint (see above). Used as a partial stage width scrim, Chameleon™ has no heavy edge seam to arch across your vision and will hang 'square'.
Special Effects Backgrounds
Scrim & Other translucent/Transparent Backgrounds
Scrim backgrounds “disappear” under the right lighting. This allows objects or people behind the backdrop to “appear”. Since you can control what is seen and what is not seen, the effects can be magical. To see details and diagrams of how to achieve these effects please refer to Scrim Effects a how-to on the topic.
There are two basic types of scrim. The classic solution is sharkstooth scrim. A more recent solution is Chameleon™ Scrim. The basic difference is that sharkstooth scrim is hard to make opaque and easy to make transparent, where Chameleon™ is easy to make opaque and becomes translucent--not transparent. Chameleon™ also diffuses the person/object behind the scrim and makes it "glow". This "halo" effect is why Chameleon™ is sometimes referred to as a special effects scrim. Chameleon™ is available from Studio Productions, Inc.To see details of the different types of scrim and scrim substitutes, please refer to Types of Scrim
The easiest scrim replacements are cheesecloth (available in small sizes at fabric stores) and StudioCloth™ a substitute for Chameleon™. StudioCloth™ is available from Studio Productions Inc.
Other Translucent/Transparent Drops
Translucent backgrounds can be scrims or netting,illusion netting or gauzes. The nets and gauzes are used for two main purposes, 1.) To suggest distance. 2.) To support objects glued to them, to make object appear suspended in space. This second use is frequently used with cut drops to support small details of the canvas drop. For instance, the leaves of a tree might be glued to a netting to help suspend them in position.
Gauzes and Nettings are available in small sizes in fabric store or in large sizes through speciatly Theater supply stores. Try RoseBrand or Gerriets International.
Gauzes are sometimes used to replace scrims.
(The picture above shows how lighting makes a gray translucent look blue. The wall behind the StudioCloth™ is lit with blue gelled lights.)
Translucents and Scrims come in many colors, and even if you choose a color the translucent has the benefit of being very changeable due to lighting. A gray can look blue with a few light tricks.
The “gotchas” with translucents include that only non-wovens can be layered or a nasty interference pattern results, most translucent fabrics bought at fabric stores come in narrow widths. Most are not heavy duty. So look for at least 12’ wide, non-woven scrims.
Chromakey backdrops are a common special effect backgrounds for video, film and projection, they are most commonly known as the background that the weatherman stands in front of, chromakey or “key” backgrounds are set to perfect blue or green to allow a video trick to be played. The videographer can superimpose a second image over the first and only the chromakey color section will show (think weather map behind the weather man).
Like this article? Try Scrim Effects or Types Scrim.